God's law for today
September 8 - The law expects a life of worship
SCRIPTURE LESSON Leviticus 24:1-9, NLT
24:1 The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the people of Israel to bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to keep the lamps burning continually. 3 This is the lampstand that stands in the Tabernacle, in front of the inner curtain that shields the Ark of the Covenant. Aaron must keep the lamps burning in the Lord’s presence all night. This is a permanent law for you, and it must be observed from generation to generation. 4 Aaron and the priests must tend the lamps on the pure gold lampstand continually in the Lord’s presence.
5 “You must bake twelve flat loaves of bread from choice flour, using four quarts of flour for each loaf. 6 Place the bread before the Lord on the pure gold table, and arrange the loaves in two stacks, with six loaves in each stack. 7 Put some pure frankincense near each stack to serve as a representative offering, a special gift presented to the Lord. 8 Every Sabbath day this bread must be laid out before the Lord as a gift from the Israelites; it is an ongoing expression of the eternal covenant. 9 The loaves of bread will belong to Aaron and his descendants, who must eat them in a sacred place, for they are most holy. It is the permanent right of the priests to claim this portion of the special gifts presented to the Lord.”
Mark 14:12-17,22 -26, GW
12 Killing the Passover lamb was customary on the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The disciples asked Jesus, “Where do you want us to prepare the Passover meal for you?”
13 He sent two of his disciples and told them, “Go into the city. You will meet a man carrying a jug of water. Follow him. 14 When he goes into a house, tell the owner that the teacher asks, ‘Where is my room where I can eat the Passover meal with my disciples?’ 15 He will take you upstairs and show you a large room. The room will be completely furnished. Get everything ready for us there.”
16 The disciples left. They went into the city and found everything as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.
17 When evening came, Jesus arrived with the twelve apostles.
22 While they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it. He broke the bread, gave it to them, and said, “Take this. This is my body.”
23 Then he took a cup, spoke a prayer of thanksgiving, and gave the cup to them. They all drank from it. 24 He said to them, “This is my blood, the blood of the promise. It is poured out for many people.
25 “I can guarantee this truth: I won’t drink this wine again until that day when I drink new wine in God’s kingdom.”
26 After they sang a hymn, they went to the Mount of Olives.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20, NCV
19 You should know that your body is a temple for the Holy Spirit who is in you. You have received the Holy Spirit from God. So you do not belong to yourselves, 20 because you were bought by God for a price. So honor God with your bodies.
SERMON The Law Expects a Life of Worship
I attended a prayer meeting for pastors and leaders in our community and surrounding area this week. It was a delight to see so many gathered from a variety of church backgrounds and styles, leaders of varying ages and nationality, men and women from both sides of the river, clergy and lay leadership. We had a lot of differences among us. But what we had in common was greater: faith in God, in Christ, in prayer, and in God’s desire to call this community to renewal.
Among the themes expressed as part of that renewal are prayer, worship, obedience and holiness. I thought to myself, so this is why the next several weeks God wants me to preach on the Torah and God’s Law; that’s all about holiness and obedience and begins today with worship. No surprise God has me focused on prayer right now and has that as the sermon series to follow. These are themes God is urging on us not only as a congregation but as a community of believers in the Clinton area.
My reading for these weeks will come primarily from David Kalas, a pastor from my home conference of the United Methodist Church, and his book The Gospel According to Leviticus: Finding God’s Love in God’s Law. Notice that subtitle; it’s important. God doesn’t give us a Law to punish us or make life hard for us. God gives us a Law, because God loves us. It’s God setting boundaries as we’ve been talking about. The Law is God saying “This is good for you, and this is not. This is how you should treat one another. This is how you are to show respect for me.” (my interpretation) These are the things the Law wants to teach us and why the Law still matters, even if we don’t follow the letter of the Law in exactly the same way as thousands of years ago. We still seek to maintain obedience to the principles of the Law as revealed by the Holy Spirit. We remember that Jesus may have reinterpreted the Law, sometimes stricter, but Jesus also said, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” (Matthew 5:17) We need to know what the Law says and intends if we are going to live by its principles as directed by the Holy Spirit in our own age.
David Kalas suggests that in our social culture today, “we have lost our way when it comes to matters of holiness.” (p. 87) Our words and deeds not only affect others around us; they matter deeply to God, and that is the part we have forgotten. Perhaps you have also been taught that the 10 commandments, the ones you probably know best, can be divided into two sections. While the last six reflect our horizontal relationships with other human beings, the first four, the starting place, relate to our respect for and relationship with God. That has to come first!
While I am taking Kalas’ chapters in a different order to fit our schedule, I chose to begin the first two weeks with worship. Worship reminds us that God is holy, but beyond that through this series I hope you recognize anew that all of our life is meant to be holy. Kalas puts it this way, “We live our lives before a holy God, and how we live is meant to be a conscious response to that holiness.” (p.88)
So we begin with a sense of God as holy. That is where worship and prayer begin. That is where the Law begins. That is where we are called to begin our lives each and every day, waking up to a sense of the holiness of God. You might find that in looking out at the morning sky or in your devotions, but I hope you can also taste God’s holiness as you eat your breakfast and pray for God’s holiness as you listen to the news. Offer your day to God as an act of obedience and respect to God, the Holy One.
The Law states in Leviticus 19:2, “Tell all the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord your God. You must be holy because I am holy.” I find that admonition repeated many times in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. In the New Testament, I find it in Ephesians 1:4, “God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless in God’s presence before the creation of the world.” It is repeated elsewhere with specifics. Peter wrote it this way, “you must be holy in every aspect of your lives, just as the one who called you is holy.” (1 Peter 1:15) That is still God’s message to God’s people today, “Be holy, because our God is Holy!”
I also associate the word holy with sacred. The meaning is to be set apart, dedicated to God’s service or God’s purpose. We are all called to be living saints or sacred ones, which does not mean perfect but does mean set apart for lives dedicated to God. Remember Samuel from last week’s story? His mother dedicated that child to God’s service even before Samuel was conceived in her womb.
I understand Christian baptism to be an act recognizing that a child or youth or adult is set apart to live for God. If you have been baptized someone has already celebrated that call, that claim of God upon your life whether a parent or guardian made that choice, or you made it yourself. The call to holy living is there for any and all of us to accept and put into practice. Baptism is one of many symbols used in worship to remind us of that calling. Many are surprised to find that the baptismal font contains ordinary tap water, but Jesus was baptized in river water! This is how God works. God takes what is ordinary and natural and uses it for a holy purpose.
This is behind Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians, that our bodies are to be a temple for the Holy Spirit. God takes what is ordinary, our natural bodies, but when the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we are available for God to use us in ways we might not have thought possible. When God created human beings in the first place God shaped us from ordinary dirt and dust. Can you get much more ordinary than dirt and dust? But when God breathed his own breath, the Holy Spirit into that ordinary body made of the basics of the natural world, that body came to life and also became a temple for God’s Spirit, set apart for a holy purpose and for a holy relationship with God.
God uses other ordinary stuff when we share in the sacred meal of Holy Communion. God blesses the bread made from flour growing in the earth and juice from the fruit of the vine and uses it as a reminder to us we are forgiven, that we are community, that we live in communion with one another and with God, that we are so precious to God that Jesus gave his own body and blood to show us the extent to which God would go to redeem and reclaim us.
But when Jesus and the disciples prepared and gathered for that Last Supper from which we take our Holy Communion, they were there for an older worship tradition, the Passover. The meal was prepared and shared according to the ancient Law given to Moses and recorded in Leviticus. This meal used not only unleavened bread and wine but also salt water, greens, bitter herbs, charoset, and a sacrificed lamb to remind them of their bitter slavery in Egypt and what lengths God went to in order to set them free. Physical foods represent spiritual truths.
Kalas writes, “Our worship of God is necessarily both physical and spiritual…Not for God’s sake, but for ours. In the worship guidelines of the Law, the Lord meets us where we are, for you and I are both physical and spiritual.” (p. 98) Think about it; God who is Spirit even came to meet us taking on a physical body in Jesus. In worship and in life, God meets us where we are, because on our own we cannot meet God as God is.
Taking a closer look at some of the worship laws in Leviticus, I turned to George Knight’s commentary on Leviticus in the Daily Study Bible Series. He begins his comments on Chapter 24 by reminding us, “Symbolism is very important to faith. God is Spirit; man is merely creature.” (p. 145) Among the symbols that were part of their worship were lamps filled with oil and kept burning by the priests representing God’s presence as light and twelve loaves of bread together with incense representing the twelve tribes of Israel and their offerings to the Lord. Again God was using ordinary stuff and giving it a deeper meaning in worship.
Consider the lamps in the tabernacle and later in the temple filled with olive oil kept perpetually burning as a symbol of God’s presence as light among God’s people. God comes to us as light and sends us out as light. We symbolize this each worship service as the light in carried into the sanctuary and our candles (kept filled with oil by Doug) are lit representing God’s presence with us as we worship. Then that light is carried out of the sanctuary to remind you that you go forth to bring God’s light to the world. You carry God’s presence with you when you leave this place.
The oil lamps then and our oil candles now remind me of the camp song, “Give Me Oil in my Lamp, keep me burning.” It reminds me of the parable Jesus told of ten bridesmaids awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom with their oil lamps. (Matthew 25) Half of them missed the opportunity, because they ran out of oil. We are not oil lamps, but we are vessels that best serve our Lord when we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit. If we run dry, we miss opportunities, so we are called to “keep our lamps filled” keep our lives and being filled and spiritually ready for whenever our Lord needs us.
Light is a common symbol throughout the Bible. It is the first thing God spoke into being in the creation liturgy of Genesis 1, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, so he divided the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:3-4) God appeared to Moses in the light of a burning bush and guided the people during the exodus as a pillar of fire. The Psalmist claims, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1) Psalms also refers to God’s Word as a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. (Psalm 119:105) Jesus was proclaimed to be the Light of the World. God also sends us out to shine that light on others. Isaiah told the Israelites, “I, the Lord, have called you and given you power to see that justice is done on earth. Through you I will make a covenant with all peoples; through you I will bring light to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6) Jesus gave that same message in the Sermon on the Mount, “You are the light of the world. … let your light shine before people, so they can see the good things you do and praise your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16) Many people use a candle in their personal worship space as a reminder of God’s presence. I hope you also remember to bear in your expressions, your words, and your actions that presence of God so needed by this world. Let God’s light shine through you!
The other symbol we read about in Leviticus today was bread set in place by the priest, twelve loaves made of the finest flour set together with pure frankincense. The loaves represented the twelve tribes of Israel; they were an offering made on behalf of the people, not as individuals, but as a whole. There are two points here. First, when we give our offerings to the Lord, the Law always indicated we are to give the first and the best of what we have available. God is worthy of the highest honors; it’s not right to give God just the leftovers. Second, worship is corporate not individual. You may each have a personal experience during a time of worship, but there is something about joining our hearts, our minds, our voices, our bodies as one that is significant. In John 17 Jesus prayed for us to be one in him as he one with the Father. The letter to the Ephesians claims we are one in many ways and asks us to maintain that unity in peace. (Ephesians 4:3) The letter to the Philippians urges us to be of one mind in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:27)
Bread is also a significant symbol in the Bible. There is the manna that sustained the Hebrews through 40 years in the wilderness of the exodus. There are the little cakes of flour and oil that sustained Elijah the prophet along with the widow of Zarephath and her son through years of drought. In the New Testament, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) Many times Jesus broke, blessed, and fed the crowds with a few loaves of bread. Notice they fed the whole people, not just a few. It was in the breaking of bread that the two from Emmaus finally recognized their Lord after the resurrection. And of course, today as we take Holy Communion, we share bread as Jesus did with his disciples and remember that this bread represents Jesus’ body given for us. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11) That prayer can refer to both physical and spiritual bread, because we need a daily supply of both food to sustain our physical bodies and a daily reminder of Jesus to sustain our spirit.
The Laws of the Torah concerning worship are still important. They remind us of the holiness of God and call us to honor God who is holy. We do not continue to practice them perhaps in exactly the same way as the wanderers did thousands of years ago when they were first given, but in many ways though reinterpreted, some of the symbols are still present such as the symbols of light and of bread. We are reminded by the Law that worship is meant to be both physical and spiritual. We worship God with our body as well as with our mind and inner being. In John Calvin’s Westminster Shorter Catechism, the very first point is this. “Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.” Calvin summarizes an underlying theme of the Law, that we were created to honor and enjoy our Creator forever. This is what we do in worship as we give our whole being to God.
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